Published on April 28, 2009
After nearly a decade recording
with drummer Brian Viglione as the Dresden Dolls, songwriter, pianist,
and vocalist Amanda Palmer struck out on her own in 2008 with the musically
diverse Who Killed Amanda Palmer. “Oasis,” one
of the album’s catchiest tunes, was crass enough to get banned
in the United Kingdom, and Palmer later found herself in a dispute with
her label over the suitability of her midsection for a music video.
She continues to court controversy at South By Southwest and on her
blog, where she makes no bones about her desire to be dropped from Roadrunner
Records. Speaking before playing a concert in the indie wilderness of
Alabama, Palmer offered her insight on the drama that surrounds her,
did a little name-dropping, and admits a healthy respect for the pop
stylings of one Dolly Parton.
How was South by
It was unbelievably brilliant. I was working the whole time, so I didn’t
get to catch any bands or hang out much, but I would still recommend
the experience. There are so many creative people
Did you get to meet
Rachel Ray or Perez Hilton?
I did not get to meet Rachel Ray or Perez Hilton. I did get to do some
busking with John Wesley Harding when Quincy Jones delayed my panel.
Neil Gaiman also arranged a meeting for me with Tori Amos, so I got
to sit down with her for a moment. I also got to hang out with Margaret
Cho, which was excellent. She’s really one of the only ones out
there that’s doing something as fucking bizarre as me.
Were you playing
any new material?
Not really, because it was such a short set. I was playing in a converted
church, so I did open with this beautiful a cappella Irish folk song
that I almost never do live. While I was preparing, I was thinking about
it as a regular two-hour set, so I wrote a song called “Please
Drop Me” for Roadrunner. It’s a fun song, but it would have
taken way too long to set up. They already know that I want to be dropped,
so there was no use wasting my entire forty-minute set on one song.
Why do you want to
To put it simply, the relationship isn’t working anymore. I’ve
found myself going completely independent and turning into the kind
of artist that Roadrunner isn’t interested in representing. I’ve
sat in meetings and been told that I’m a wonderful artist, but
that people at the label don’t understand why I just can’t
be more commercially aware. I don’t want be putting out music
that tries to appeal to the masses.
next thing you’ll be releasing?
Nothing is going to be coming out in the traditional sense. My hands
are tied in the label situation. I will be putting out an incredible
amount of material, but not in the traditional sense. I’m working
on another book, a theatre project, and there will be a bunch of new
videos on YouTube. Fans who think they’re going to be starved
will actually be bombarded. June is drop month, so when that happens
I can start thinking about the follow-up to the record.
How close was Who
Killed Amanda Palmer to what you originally envisioned?
There were different states of envisioning, so it’s hard to say.
I originally pictured it as solo voice and piano, no arrangements, no
nothing. Then Ben Folds got involved, and that pulled the cork on a
chain of events that moved the recording process from about two months
to two years. The end result was very different from the original concept,
but I’m very proud of how the songs came together.
Where does the inspiration
I’m not goal oriented. I just sit down and write. Some of the
songs on Who Killed Amanda Palmer predate the Dresden Dolls. When I
was writing then, Brian and I would just sit down and sift through them
and pick out the ones that felt right. When most people are writing,
they’re thinking about hits. I was writing for years without an
audience, so I never thought about my process. It’s one of those
things where it can be dangerous to rip apart your process.
Tell me something
nobody knows about Who Killed Amanda Palmer.
I’m pretty open, so there’s not much new to tell about the
album. There’s an interesting story with a song on the album called
“Another Year.” There’s a line in the song where I
where I say “plus I’m only twenty-six years old.”
I remember talking to the engineer and asking him whether I should change
it, because I was technically lying. He looked at me like I was speaking
a foreign language, but that’s the type of idiosyncrasy that I
deal with on a minute-to-minute basis.
What was it like
to work with Ben Folds?
His work persona is actually kind of chill. Ben is kind of a frenetic
genius and he can be really demanding, but we ended up meshing really
well. He’s made enough records to know how to treat an artist.
I was definitely never intimidated during the recording process. I think
it’s really lucky that I wasn’t a huge fan. I was able to
become a fan during the process, and we ended being mutual respecters
of each other’s approach.
How did you hook
up with Neil Gaiman?
Oh, I could answer that question in so many wicked ways. I first met
Neal through Jason Webley, who is an amazing musician that I’ve
worked with; he and Neil had this e-mail correspondence going on, and
he knew that that we would hit it off.
Is there anybody
you’d like to work with in the future?
I don’t know, really. Collaboration depends on getting together
with the right person at the right time. There are still just a bunch
of people I’d love to work with. Sara, from Teagan and Sara. I’ve
always wanted to do something with Robyn Hitchcock and Edward from the
Legendary Pink Dots. It seems so tempting, but collaborating with another
artist takes so much time. At this point, my life has enough complications
without having to set up time to write, rehearsals and recording.
Tell me about “Oasis.”
I wasn’t thinking about much of anything when I wrote it. I was
probably about twenty-five and I thought it was funny. I brought it
to Ben and he thought it was funny. He put that pitch perfect arrangement
to it, and we put it on the record. I didn’t really think about
it until the powers that be in the United Kingdom refused to play it.
Was there a point
where you worried about joking about such a sensitive subject?
I honestly don’t think there were that many people who would be
offended by the joke. I think mainstream media drastically underestimates
what will offend the general public. I don’t want to censor myself
because someone might not like what I have to say. For me, there is
no hypothetical. I don’t make art to appeal to every single person
on the planet.
Is there any subject
that’s off limits to you as an artist?
Nothing is inherently off-limits. I do have to do a specific amount
of veiling and changing if I want to address something that occurred
in my life. If I’m spewing some venom about something fucked-up
that happened or a broken relationship, using actual names would be
abusing my power. Other than that, anything that pops in my head is
fair game. As an artist, it’s a lot more effective to edit on
the back end.
Do you think that
popular music is not daring enough?
There’s so much music out there, I think that everybody’s
going to find what they need. Would I like it if thirteen year olds
were out there listening to thoughtful, well-crafted music rather than
Taylor Spears, Miley Cyrus, or Britney Spears? Of course, but it’s
a waste of energy to spend time being down on any type of music. It’s
like a philosophy or religion, people take what they need from it. And
that’s the beauty of the Internet. Everybody has access to it,
and there’s no excuse for settling for the mass-produced garbage
Do you ever see yourself
bowing to pressure and consciously writing something popular?
I have lots of respect for pop artists who write with a mass audience
in mind. I grew up on Prince, Madonna, and Abba. Dolly Parton is a wonderful
singer and songwriter. I’ve had fantasies for years about creating
something like that, and I’ve even set myself the task of writing
the most mainstream, accessible song that I can create. But then I look
at the choices I need to make and I how I need to spend my time. It’s
better for me to spend time on my own work, which I really care about,
or going to the place where I can shut down and recharge. Lovely pop
music is going to have to come from somewhere else.
March 30, 2009